Kobe Bryant glanced up at the shot clock as it trickled down to one, sized up a smothering Thabo Sefolosha, raised his arms and flicked his wrist. The shot was contested about as fundamentally as can be, but the ball splashed through the net with 2:56 left it the first quarter.
It was Bryant’s only basket of the night against Sefolosha — a desperation heave with the shot-clock buzzer purring.
Sefolosha masterfully shut down the Los Angeles Lakers’ star in the Thunder’s 91-75 win over the defending champions on Friday night at the Ford Center. Sefolosha helped force last year’s NBA Finals MVP into a season-high tying nine turnovers, two shy of his career-high, and tag-teamed with rookie James Harden to limit Bryant to 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
And with their star saddled by Sefolosha, the Lakers never posed a threat. The Thunder led from start to finish and enjoyed the comfort of a lead that grew to as many as 33 points.
"He was the reason we got off to the start that we did, the intensity that he had.” said Jeff Green of Sefolosha. "I think everyone was focusing on what he was doing and we took it upon ourselves to match that.”
The Thunder took a 27-15 lead after the first period. Bryant had seven points on 2-for-6 shooting with five turnovers in the quarter. Sefolosha’s suffocating defense led to Bryant losing the ball out of bounds on one possession, getting called for a traveling violation on another and produced a steal. And it all came before Sefolosha went to the bench with 2:16 to play in the period.
Sefolosha’s 22 minutes, 37 seconds Friday were the third fewest played of any player in Thunder coach Scott Brooks’ nine-man rotation.
But the fourth-year swingman from Switzerland made the most of every second, staying grounded on Bryant’s pump fakes, moving his feet on his drives to the rim, getting a hand up to contest each of his shots and deflecting a handful of balls when it was in Bryant’s hands.